(Article 4 of 7)
Welcome back to the Rainbow Family gathering at Ocala National Forest. If you have not read the articles leading up to this, I suggest you do. You can access them by clicking these links: Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3.
I am encamped with some fellows from the Alabama Rainbow Family - we had a recent arrival that brought the camp up to a total of six people including me. This is my seventh day here, and I am of the mind that I will need to write a conclusionary article on this experience when I am done. So, in the meanwhile these articles may be a bit more of a musing than my normal posts. Please bear with me.
Tuesday night a new camp member arrived, and the camp was awakened at 2 am by him. We finally settled back in about four when a few people woke us back up. It seems a few of my camp-mates have gone to AA, and they were bringing a fellow who was in trouble with alcohol to see if we could help.
The fellow - about thirty years old has been working for the kitchen closest to us - helping gather wood for fires etc. His is the type of drinker who drinks everyday, and his body's physical need for alcohol has become such that if he goes a day or two without it he goes through withdrawal symptoms. Well, most of the alcohol has been eradicated over the past few days, and it seems this fellow's supply had been cut off.
When they brought him, he was shaking and sweating. He said he had seizures when he suddenly quit drinking one time before. About fifteen minutes after they had arrived, he did indeed go into a seizure. We got sleeping bag liners to lay on the ground and carried him on top of them. We then covered him with a few extra blankets, keeping him on his side in an attempt to keep his airways clear.
He had what looked like an epileptic seizure for about a minute and a half, then fell back and had a bunch more little seizures. He was passed out for about forty five minutes after then - but he was breathing ok and his heartbeat was strong. When he first woke up he could not tell us his name or where he was, but after about ten minutes everything came back to him.
We sat around and talked with him until the sun came up. Someone from another camp brought some protein drink and some Gatorade for him that he tolerated well. He headed down the trail just after sunrise, but later in the day he came back to thank us. We talked to him for about another hour, and he has become a sort of "friend" of our camp.
Speaking of our camp, I got permission from my camp-mates to do a short profile on each of them. Meet Nate.
Nate will be 25 in a few weeks. He traveled here with his dog Jack. Jack is protective of the camp but not obnoxious about his barking. In short order Jack has come to know all of us and seems to understand our habits a bit better than we do.
Nate's father was disabled some years ago. He was a heroin addict who got thrown into a local jail. He went into a heroin withdrawal coma which lasted three days. The police did nothing to help him and notified no medical personnel - they let him lie in the coma, he result of which is that his father is permanently impaired. There was a lawsuit in which his father won three million dollars, and he used the proceeds to buy some property in the back country of Montana. Nate's mother deals with severe depression. The sum total means Nate didn't have much of a childhood - he has been trying to be an adult for a long time. Nate has spent a lot of time on the streets since he was fifteen. He considers Rainbows to be his family and has become close with the Alabama Family in particular. Nate is very quiet and observant. He is the one that seems to anticipate what others in the camp need and goes about doing it or getting it with no fanfare.
Nate has spent the last year traveling all over the southern United States. His plan is to head up the east coast this spring and work his way back to the west coast. His hope is that somewhere in the journey he will find the place he is supposed to land and build a life. He is a pretty clean kid in habit and mannerisms.
Shortly after that, this couple came to camp to see if they could find help. They had parked their car by a local stream and the ignition key was stuck. They loaded up in the van and we drove down to try to remove the ignition switch. (I left some of my notes back in my camp, so will edit this later with their names and more specific details.) This young lady just graduated college last spring and hit the road with her boyfriend immediately afterward. He has worked as a fund-raiser for their local fire department for a number of years, and the couple have been dating for two years.
I asked her what her parents thought about her graduating and hitting the road like this. She said her dad died when she was three, and although her mother thought she was nuts for doing it, her mom is ok with it. They keep fairly close contact. The man is welcome back at the fire department if they decide to return, but they are content to just follow the Rainbow Family for now. The place they were parked is a spot that they have been to before at Rainbow gatherings here, and they were saddened that during this last year someone painted graffiti all over the bridge. One of their friends in the camp who brings his children every year was here yesterday with his 11 year old. The 11 year old was very mad and kept asking everyone why people would write these filthy things on such a beautiful place. The conclusion of all was that it was a good life-lesson for the 11 year old.
The main dirt road that runs alongside the camp is a photographer's dream - except that you had better ask before you take a photograph. I have not been refused yet, but I am constantly reminded that I had better ask. Here are a few random road photos:
That is a group of hippies on a firewood run in a Volkswagen convertible. One of the big problems with this particular campsite is that the trees are all pine. Pine burns fast, and if you inhale too much pine smoke it causes issues for many people. So everyone tries to get hardwood limbs from different areas.
The kitchens require massive quantities of groceries and water. There are many ferrying systems, and along the road a wagon is easier to transport behind a bike. This doesn't work back on the trails though.
This particular trail is the easiest to navigate - it is apparently a temporary road from days gone by. But, the tons of food and water make it where they are supposed to go - rather efficiently it seems.
This one I have no clue about. It looks like a converted tandem bike with an office chair seat attached. If I photographed every form of "hippie transport" I wouldn't have space for many more. And, by the way, these folks embrace the name "hippie" - it is not derogatory at all to them. I was told by a couple of people that it is an acronym for "Highly Intelligent Person Pursuing Infinite Enlightenment." So, if you call someone a "hippie," don't be surprised if they take it as a compliment.
Every night there is a "main fire" - there are a couple of areas these have been held in. Those that attend sit in a huge circle just before sunset. As the sun falls, the fire is lit and announcements are made. After announcements, there is a moment of prayer before the meal where some chant OHMMM and others just quiet themselves. (About three hundred attend these - maybe fifteen percent of the entire gathering.)
Last night ambassadors from seven different kitchens brought huge pots of food. Everyone in the circle has brought their own bowl and fork or spoon.
As the kitchens travel the circle, they each tell you what they have made and ask if you want some. If so, they put a huge ladle full in your bowl. The next group comes along in a few minutes, so you have usually ready for more.
The first group brought a salad that had kale, tomato and carrots with dressing. The next brought vegetarian chili. (All of the food served is vegetarian, although once in a while one of the kitchens cooks meat that is only served from that kitchen.) Also served was a rice with beans dish, vegetarian calzones, potatoes fried with beans and onions, stew and other things. Everything is quite good - spiced well and served hot. Some of the kitchens had to move their contributions a few miles through the woods and keep it hot - I am not sure how they accomplish that. As before, right after dinner was served musicians started playing. There are many instruments, and the music is quite haunting in the forest setting. It stirs something primal within.
On the trail out I had to pass another kitchen who insisted I try some of their goulash, then at the trail head another kitchen pushed a vegetarian hamburger on me. Between a sore knee and a full belly, the two mile waddle back to camp seemed to take forever.
The vegetable hamburger actually came from Front Gate. Most of the "Front Gators" left, but a few remained and are set up out of a motor home now. In talking with them, they insist that they spoke with a ranger before they set up, and were given the green light pitch camp and the kitchen where it was. But then another group of officers told them they had to move. Being informed they had permission, the officers insisted they move their cars. Now it is about a mile down the road, so most just left. Here was the motor home last night.
There is a steady stream of people walking the road, and as soon as they finished a batch of burgers or potatoes they were place on the table. Food on the table is gone in a few minutes.
On the topic of food, I have a few funny stories. I am writing about ten miles away at The Country Store, who just erected their new sign today.
Sitting in this alcove I see all manner of things. Most of the long term Rainbows are experienced enough that they bring everything they will need for as long as they are staying, and when they need produce or other food they send out folks to places where they can buy it bulk.
A local woman came into the store and announced "Do you know what those people are doing? They are catching people's dogs and eating them !!"
I asked her "Oh? I thought "those people" were all down in that one spot in the forest past the springs." "No," she insisted, "those people are everywhere. They have been taking people's prize fox hounds - $2,500 dogs mind you - and killing them and eating them !! They don't care !! And they have children there doing it with them !! Can you imagine"
I wanted to take the woman's photo and include it in this post, but I thought better. I saw another near altercation where an older local man, pretty apparently drunk, was getting in his truck and yelled at some Rainbows just arriving "Why don't you filthy people get the f*** out of our woods? We don't want you here !!" One of the Rainbows said "We have the right to be here sir." The man replied "I served my country, I fought in Vietnam and I don't feel like supporting you trash." The Rainbow replied "I served our country too sir, I fought in Afghanistan...." The older guy cut him off and raised his voice. Meanwhile a couple more local drunks and a guy from the store started a shout down. The Rainbow tried to apologize, but no one was hearing it. The Rainbows got back in their car and left.
Now I met the owner of this store the other day, and he buys all sorts of extra water, cigarettes, tobacco and other goods when the Rainbows come every year. He doesn't gouge on his prices, but they are pretty stiff. When I see him next I will ask him what he thinks about his customers being run off.
One way the hippies introduce themselves is with a "random pocket trade." Most of them carry little pins, crystals, geodes and other items of interest in their pocket. Asking someone you just met to do a random pocket trade allows you to meet them and engage in conversation immediately. One of my camp-mates was happy to show us this -
This is supposedly a pin showing a cup of coffee with a molecular diagram representing the caffeine molecule. A whole article can be done on the things that pass hands in these trades.
About three miles down the street is Alexander Springs, part of the forest that has a ranger station and campgrounds.
I came here because I have not showered since last Thursday, and am too used to doing to to feel comfortable. This is one of many springs in this area - large pools of incredibly fresh water gurgling up out of the limestone.
There is an artificial "beach" by this one so you can swim in it. All manner of kayaks, snorkelers and scuba divers were about the park. Manatee frequent these, but none were in this one today.
Speaking of showers, an interesting thing about many of the street people is that they rely to some degree on a persons smell as a basis of whether to trust them or not. They remark quickly about someone who smells like soap or whatnot - someone "clean." A few of the gathering sites have a stream or river by the site that is suitable for bathing water, but this site does not have any that is reasonably close.
The announcements at the main fire every night deal with these things. "If you are using soap, do not bathe within 50 yards of the stream." "Read the signs at the shitters, or build your own shitter. Wash your hands or you are hurting us all." "Bury your dog shit or someone will bury your dog." These are all announcements I have heard - as well as different kitchens or camps announcing a musical performance or an open gathering at their place that night.
The latrines are trenches that have shovels, toilet paper, hand sanitizer and a pile of camp fire ashes. You are told to first throw ashes on your toilet and then sand. This is to keep flies from alighting on it and then moving about the woods. Each camp has its own latrine - we dug one for ours and use the same protocol. But I have to say, using a trench commode with a bum knee at fifty three years old doesn't seem as appealing as it might have a few decades ago.
Then there are the dogs. Most of these people are nomadic, and the dogs have been raised in the nomadic life style. At least half of the people here have a dog - two sometimes, but most often just one.
Watching these dogs interact is fascinating. I wish I knew more about canine behavior, because I watch them establishing their relationships with each other and know there is a lot more going on than I can see. The dogs are all very alert and intuitive. A dog needs to be very attuned to his master and the circumstances. And of course, for a person that lives this lifestyle circumstances are always changing. But it isn't surprising that the dogs are so good at it - after all, I am sure this exact thing was what dogs were bred for in the first place. None of us are that far removed from our own nomadic roots. Dogs are highly respected here and the topic of many conversations centers on dog training and dog care.
A correction on the "dirty kids" comments in the previous article. I put forth that "snippy kids" was the common slang for the homeless kids that are troublemakers. That wasn't completely true - in fact it seems that the "snippy kids" expression is only used by a few of this most recent generation, and at that it is only used by those from certain areas of the country.
Another correction on the law enforcement here.
It seems that after the incident with Jowers in the early 2000's FEMA got out of the Rainbow business. It has fallen to the National Forest Service (?) who has created a "Rainbow Task Force." This group of federal rangers follows the Rainbow gatherings, and has done much by working with the people in the camps and the kitchens to make sure food is handled properly and latrines are dug well. These are the people who were putting up the sign with the map and the bear warning the first day we were here.
This turns out to be the thirtieth year Rainbow has had a gathering here in this forest. Since the site is moved each year, it sometimes comes into different local jurisdictions. This year happens to be in Lake County, whereas they are usually in Marion County.
One of the Lake County deputies was heard by several credible people saying "Well, its time to make some money" as he strode off to give some people a ticket who were riding on a car bumper. Now, most everyone drives under five miles an hour here, and the campsite is a couple of miles long. I have allowed numerous people to stand on my bumper while I ease in and out of the campgrounds.
The Rangers have all started smiling and waving as I pass and wave to them again, but most of the Sheriffs look the other way when I wave at them. My understanding is that there have been no arrests - no one has been removed from the property - but there have been a bunch of tickets for impeding traffic and the like written on petty offenses. But the posture has softened considerably, and the tension that was palpable for the first few days has mostly waned. My notion is that the Forest Rangers are real decent people who try hard to perform a service. I think they get the dynamic that there are many people within Rainbow whose mission is to help the Dirty Kids and the Street Kids. But the feeling of the camp is that they drew a "bunch of red-neck cowboys trying to be macho" as the local law enforcement representatives. I don't have an opinion on this yet and may never. But I can see that there are two sides to the story, and I am in hopes that both the Rangers and the Sheriffs will respond to my requests to give us their perspective on these events.
I can say with no reservation that almost all of the problems I have seen - inside and outside the camp - are caused by locals. The other night some locals drove through the camp in the middle of the night firing guns in the air and yelling "Get off our land you filthy hippies." Hopefully that is not the same attitude in the pool of folks that local law enforcement draws on for their representatives. I am told that Marion County doesn't send out deputies at all - they are of the opinion that the Rangers are fully qualified to handle it themselves.
That brings us to today's "Faces in The Crowd." These are both images on signs here locally. This first one is on a sign behind the ranger station at Alexander Springs.
This second one is on the wall of the entryway at Logos Church.
Both images strike me as very "real."
And today's parting shot:
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